Sen. Marty Harbin, right, speaks with Charlie Denton, a transgender woman, about SB 140 before the vote. Denton said she hoped to get across the human cost of the vote: “When I started talking about my personal experience, I felt like there was just this moment, this little eyebrow raise, this little quirk of the face, and hopefully I got through to him. I don’t know if, practically, this is going to change his vote, but I hope that he’s just a little ill at ease about this. I hope that he understands that this does create an apprehensive, distrustful and hostile environment, especially for trans kids.” Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder.
Young transgender Georgians could be denied access to some forms of gender-affirming care if a bill that passed the Senate Monday night becomes law.
Senate Bill 140, authored by Cordele Republican Sen. Carden Summers, passed on a party-line vote. It would outlaw surgical or hormone replacement treatments for gender dysphoria, with an exemption for children already taking hormone treatment. If the bill becomes law, doctors or facilities who perform or allow the banned procedures could lose their licenses.
“I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I’m not trying to harm anybody out there or cause anybody any issues whatsoever,” Summers said. “I’m just going to lay it out for you. Senate Bill 140, this bill protects children who are struggling with their gender identity from being pushed into decisions that will alter their bodies forever.”
Advocates said they fear trans children likely will be harmed if the bill becomes law. Madison Tipton was part of a group of transgender people and allies at the Capitol urging senators to vote against the measure.
“The process of going through your ‘birth puberty’ is also an irreversible process,” she said. “Most trans people I know who go through procedures as an adult, people who have waited to the age of 18 and beyond, feel like they’re playing catch up. For me, I’m a trans woman, and my voice dropped when I went through puberty. This is not something that I am able to change. You can do voice training, but it’s like, this is an irreversible thing that happened with my physiology because I was not able to go through the puberty that I wish I did.”
The bill would allow children dealing with gender dysphoria to take puberty blockers, said Sen. Ben Watson, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and a Savannah physician who worked on the bill.
“What we tried to do is strike a really good balance,” he said. “We did leave in the puberty-blocking agents which will give what is termed as a mental pause and allowing them to continue with mental health therapy that does not do irreversible changes. As a matter of fact, when you stop the puberty blockers, in about 18 months, you go through puberty.”
Transgender people say puberty blockers can be good for some, but will not help those who come out as transgender after starting puberty. Others raise questions about the safety of blocking puberty for an extended amount of time.
Sen. Sally Harrell, an Atlanta Democrat and the mom of a transgender son, told colleagues that doctors are not rushing to perform surgeries on minors.
“Doctors and mental health professionals, they shouldn’t be in a hurry to treat with hormones and surgery, but banning them outright is not the answer either,” she said. “What the standards of care say is that kids need comprehensive assessments so that this care can be individualized.”
Harrell said the state should not close off treatment opportunities without making sure children have access to mental health care.
“That’s something we need to work on,” she said. “So going forward, let’s all bring some humility to this issue. Let’s admit that we don’t admit what we do and what we don’t know. And when we don’t, let’s ask someone who does before we take action.”
Children who cannot receive proper care may seek hormones from dangerous channels or decide to harm themselves, said Sen. Kim Jackson, a Democrat from Stone Mountain and Georgia’s first and only openly LGBTQ state senator.
“If this bill passes, if it becomes a law, we know that this bill actually may be deadly,” she said. “Now, I know there’s been some concerns about children having procedures that may be irreversible, but you know what the ultimate, most irreversible thing is? Suicide. It’s death.”
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